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Recon & Beta

First, an explanation of why we have dialed information in spite of our abject failure to complete the ride. Several weeks after our CPP attempt, still in the haze of a Snovet Hangover and convalescing, we asked Twitter for information leading to someone with first-hand experience of the entire route. Chris Tank responded.

“Having real-time-tracked Brovet #2 on Instagram, I knew there was potential for less than ideal weather conditions (to put it mildly) when we went, but then again it wasn’t hurricane season so I figured we’d be okay. And we were, we made it.”


At 8:09 AM on April 27th, 2012 Honorary Animals Chris Tank, Chris Gollan and Mladen After hours riding in the rain, soaked to the bone, Mladen purchased a yellow hazmat-looking suit in Confluence, Pennsylvania. Sokolovic left Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on bicycles headed in the direction of Maryland. 103+/- hours later, at 3:18 PM on May 1st, they arrived in Washington DC having successfully completed the seamless combination of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail and C&O Canal trail, otherwise known as the Cumberland Passage Permanent. From Primanti’s to the Thompson Boat Center, they rode close to 350 miles at an average of 13.4 mph over the course of five days and four nights. In addition to actually completing the ride, Chris Tank took detailed notes and observations. Those annotations coupled with their extensive pre-ride research and planning are 1,000,000,000% responsible for the attached Cue Sheet and Beta. Dear Chris, we can’t thank you enough for all your hard work and research. Because of you we have an accurate/vetted Cue Sheet, mileage-specific Beta and detailed descriptions of the C&O Canal (which sounds lovely—maybe we’ll go there some day).

The Following Beta is by Chris Tank

  • MILE MARKER 0.0: Before we get too far along, let’s address the alcohol situation in Pennsylvania. In short, it sucks. You can buy a Six-Pack To Go from a restaurant or bar, but you can’t from a grocery store or convenience store. Liquor is only available at State-run Wine and Spirits Stores, which stores can be difficult to locate outside of Pittsburgh. I packed a bottle of Blanton’s that ran out by Cumberland, Maryland—and even there the best I could do was Maker’s.
  • MILE MARKER 0.0: Take Amtrak from DC. Even though it takes longer than driving, it’s a comparatively low-stress way to get you and your bike to Pittsburgh. Plus you can drink and eat dinner in the dining car. And they take reservations!77Side Note regarding traveling with bicycles on the Amtrak: you need to remove your pedals and loosen your stem bolts/turn your handlebars 90° in order to pack your bike in Amtrak’s mandatory cardboard travel box. Not realizing this beforehand, we were forced to (frantically) sprint across Union Station to a commuter bike shop. The mechanic on duty came through big time, though we still barely made it back in time to get the bikes and ourselves onto the train.
  • MILE MARKER 0.0: The menu at Primanti Bros mentions their #2 Best Seller (the Pitts-burgher Cheese Steak) but nothing about #1. Of course I had to ask; of course it’s Iron City beer. We found a nice loaf of bread right around the corner at Mancini’s Bakery, 1717 Penn Ave.
  • MILE MARKER 1.5: When passing through Point State Park, it’s customary to dip your rear wheel in the fountain to symbolize the beginning of your journey. Unfortunately the fountain was dry and surrounded by a chain link fence, so there was no fountain dipping for us.
  • MILE MARKER 3.1: Say hello to Golden Triangle Bike Rental owners Britt and Tom just before turning left onto the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. They’re good people who do a lot to promote the trail and cycling in Pittsburgh.
  • MILE MARKER 3.2: Completed in 1887, the now bike/pedestrian span of the Hot Metal Bridge formerly carried molten steel by rail from the Eliza furnaces to the rolling mills on the opposite bank of the Monongahela River.
  • MILE MARKER 19.6: Don’t pass through Sutersville, PA without pit-stopping for ice cream at Yough Twister, an old Tastee-Freez on 1st Street where you hear people say things like, “Yinz rode all da way dahn here fron da Burgh?”
  • MILE MARKER 19.0-89.0 (APPROX.): Take advantage of the swimming spots along the Youghiogheny River in the summer months. One popular spot is above Ohiopyle Falls (approx. Mile Marker 78.1) near the bridge going into Ohiopyle. The Falls City Pubhas cheap pitchers of good beer and the burrito ain’t half bad as well.
  • MILE MARKER N/A: Since the GAP Trail was a huge volunteer and bureaucratic undertaking, there are markers and benches along the way dedicated to local volunteers and politicians. I can’t say I paid much attention to the names until just southeast of Meyersdale, when we came upon the Dick Stiffey Memorial Bench. Take a moment to pay your respects to the late Mr. Stiffey.
  • MILE MARKER 128.1: After slowly climbing for what seemed like forever (1,672 ft. of constant uphill over 130 mi.), the trail finally provided some relief. The Eastern Continental Divide is marked by a short tunnel with murals and an elevation chart showing the trail’s contours. It’s all downhill from here! The weariness accumulated over the first 130 miles washed away as we dropped 1,787 feet to Cumberland over the next 20 miles.
  • MILE MARKER 151.7: A few things about Cumberland: Cafe Mark is your best bet for coffee, and the “Banana Bob” is so good! Also pretty awesome is something called a “Doozie” at M&M Bakery across the street (80 Baltimore St). Then there’s the passive-aggressive asshole of a security guard who trolls the plaza, enforcing the no bike riding rule on Baltimore Street. Fuck that guy.
  • MILE MARKER 151.7: Time to get on the C&O which means saying goodbye to the smooth surface of the GAP. Instead of the almost monotonous at times crushed limestone surface of the GAP, the C&O is marked with ruts and potholes that demand your attention.
  • MILE MARKER 151.8: The Paw Paw Tunnel, one of the greatest engineering achievements of its time, was definitely a highlight. Built to bypass a six mile stretch of the Potomac that includes five horseshoe bends called the Paw Paw Bends, the six-tenths of a mile tunnel took twelve years to build with over six million bricks. It’s pitch black inside since there’s no electricity in the area, and unlike the old railroad tunnels you encounter along the GAP, the Paw Paw was built for the canal. The trail is narrow and the surface is roughly carved natural rock. It runs along the right side of the tunnel with a wooden railing and the dank canal to the left. It’s dark and eerie and I loved every second of it.
  • MILE MARKER 195.6: Besides not packing wool merino baselayers, I regret not stopping into Bill’s Place in Little Orleans. Don’t make the same mistake! And make sure you have a dollar bill for the ceiling.
  • MILE MARKER 195.7: Big Slackwater is a wide and typically calm area of the Potomac where the C&O navigated the river rather than in a separated canal. Over time, erosion and flooding caused a 1.5 mile stretch of the towpath called Galloway’s Cliffs to become impassable (in 1996), and for over 15 years trail users had to navigate a five mile detour on back roads adjacent to the towpath. That’s all changed now with the completion of the Big Slackwater Project, which, at a cost of 19 million dollars, is the largest stimulus project to take place in a Western Maryland park. Everything about this section is amazing: the sweeping vistas of the Potomac to your right, the sheer cliff wall to your left, and the modern-day engineering feat it took to reconnect the only interrupted section of the entire 184.5 mile towpath.
  • MILE MARKER 195.7-252.0: At this point we were pretty much riding head down, knocking out the miles. Besides a brief respite at Chris’ aunt’s house in Shepherdstown for a few beers, we didn’t stop much except to take a nip from the bourbon and refuel with a PB&J. The locks become more frequent which is cool because at every lock there’s a little drop and you get a break from the mostly flat towpath.
  • MILE MARKER 276.2: Harper’s Ferry is a historic old town at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. If you’re feeling adventurous you can climb your bike up a flight of steps and cross the railroad bridge into the old section of town. I won’t bore you with the details, but if you find yourself dining at the Town’s Inn they have a beer consumption limit. You can order one 24 oz beer or two 16 oz beers.88According to the Town’s Inn “Beverages” menu, each customer is limited to 36 ounces of beer AND/OR wine. This seems odd. Now this rule sucks no matter how you do the math, but since they don’t forewarn you of said rule we of course all ordered the 24 oz, expecting a second 24 oz would soon follow. Alas, there would be no second beer and no amount of begging or pleading would sway their decision.
  • MILE MARKER 322.6: Two things about the arrival into Georgetown: Go all the way to the Mile 0.0 marker! It’s kind of out of the way and tucked behind the NPS-owned Thompson Boat Center, but it’s worth the trek. If you’re looking for a good meal nearby, go to Kafe Leopold. It’s an Austrian place with a great courtyard patio on Cady’s Alley, which is right off the towpath. There you’ll find really good Julius Meinl coffee, Eggenberg beer on tap, and a meal that isn’t PB&J, trail mix, or dry sausage with bread.
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